At 8 p.m, on November 8, 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced demonetisation.
Theories abound, but we might have to wait some years to find the real motivation of the move, and the identity of those who advised the PM. In the entire union cabinet, only Nitin Gadkari suggested caution. Demonetisation
failed to meet any of its avowed objectives. The Opposition said over a hundred people died standing in queues. However, the BJP handsomely won the subsequent Assembly polls in Uttar Pradesh in February-March, 2017. The electoral wins, the BJP said, vindicated demonetisation.
It would seem the poor believed that it had hurt the rich. However, the economy, as surveys and studies have shown, is still reeling from the effects of the note ban. By July 1 of 2017, the Modi government implemented the Goods and Services Tax, or GST. Business and trade complained at the pain caused, and the regime is still being perfected.
The decline of the Congress
The decade marked the apparent dissipation of the Congress. The party that has ruled India for most of its post-independence history, was reduced to 44 seats in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, and 52 in 2019. The Congress has struggled to find its ideological moorings even as while struggling to hold on to its traditional support base. It has also experienced a battle of attrition between its seniors and party leader Rahul Gandhi. From 2013 to 2017, the Congress not only comprehensively lost the Lok Sabha polls but nearly every Assembly election as well. However, there were green shoots in December 2018. After winning Punjab in March 2017, the Congress won Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. It is now part of coalition governments in Maharashtra and Jharkhand, and has improved its legislative strength in Haryana. Those within the party argue that while the principal party may have wilted, its ideological offshoots are doing well to keep its ‘idea of India’ alive. Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress rules in Bengal, Y S Jaganmohan Reddy-led YSR Congress Party in Andhra Pradesh and Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) is a key player in Maharashtra.
The Left and Mandal parties
The decade was not just marked by the decline of the Congress, but also of the political parties that espouse social justice, including the Left. The communist fold found its legislative strength weakened across the country, including in the Lok Sabha. It is currently at a historical low in Parliament. Its 34-year rule in West Bengal ended in 2011, and its 25-year rule in Tripura, in 2018. Parties such as the Bahujan Samaj Party, Samajwadi Party and Rashtriya Janata Dal had their moments but ceded space to the Bharatiya Janata Parivar when their respective support base among the Dalits and OBCs gravitated towards “pichchda”, or backward, Narendra Modi. The BSP had a government in UP until 2012, and subsequently SP ruled for five years. These were the political parties that had halted the BJP's juggernaut in the Hindi heartland after the Ram temple movement of the 1990s. But their decline was evident when the two were wiped out in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls. The BSP failed to win a single seat while SP took only five of the 80 in Uttar Pradesh. The two suffered an embarrassing defeat in the 2017 UP Assembly polls. Their coming together in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls only marginally improved their lot, with the BJP again winning a majority of the seats in UP. The RJD had its moment in the sun when, along with Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (United) and Congress, it defeated the BJP in the 2015 Assembly polls. However, Kumar embraced the BJP two years later. With RJD chief Lalu Prasad in jail on corruption charges, the RJD drew a blank in Bihar in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Apart from JD(U), all other ‘social justice’ parties are led by dynasts. Chirag Paswan is preparing to succeed his father Ram Vilas Paswan in the Lok Janshakti Party, Tejashwi Yadav is the RJD leader and Akhilesh Yadav has already been a one-term UP chief minister. In the BSP, Mayawati is also pushing her taciturn nephew Akash into the leadership role. However, there are new first generation leaders coming up, particularly Communist Party of India’s Kanhaiya Kumar and Bhim Army’s Chandrashekhar Azad. Unlike the social justice parties, the Left has marked its presence in trade union, farmers and students protests since 2016. Leftist students organisations have provided the backbone to the latest anti-Citizenship Amendment Act and National Register of Citizens protests.
Entitlement or empowerment
In their 10-year tenure from 2004 to 2014, the UPA-1 and 2 governments attempted to provide a 'rights based' government. It implemented policies and laws like the Right to Information, Forest Rights Act, Right to Education, Right to Food, Land Acquisition Act and Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. It also implemented a farm loan waiver in 2009. In its manifesto for the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP derided this approach and promised empowerment by making people self-reliant, imparting them skills, spurring entrepreneurial spirit and increasing farm incomes. For sundry reasons, including its promise of 'vikas', or development, the country voted the BJP to power. However, the Narendra Modi government soon walked the UPA path in terms of welfare schemes. It withdrew its bill to amend the Land Acquisition Act within its first year in government. It abandoned its reforms agenda after being accused of 'suit boot sarkar', or a government of and for moneybags, and the defeats first in Delhi and subsequently Bihar Assembly polls in 2015. The BJP adopted 'garib kalyan, or welfare of the poor, as its leitmotif. As the BJP spent revenue on distributing Ujjwala gas cylinders, constructing houses and toilets, the economy continued to do poorly and revenue has gradually shrunk. Even the Congress promised a nyay, or a minimum income guarantee, scheme as its principal election plank for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. As India enters the next decade, the big question confronting its policy makers would be the challenge posed by an increasingly young population that does not have enough jobs, and a shrinking revenue pie will struggle to fund welfare schemes.